Replicating Oliver Jaskie’s 14-strikeout, complete game shutout against Ohio State Friday was certainly a tall order. However, Alec Rennard came quite close anyway.
One day after Jaskie’s gem, Rennard pitched a season-high seven innings and struck out eight Buckeyes – one shy of his season-best. But most importantly, the junior right-hander picked up his sixth win, as the No. 17 Michigan baseball team (35-10 overall, 11-6 Big Ten) defeated Ohio State (17-29, 5-12), 5-2.
Rennard was strong from the start, getting through the first two innings with an efficient 21 pitches while recording three strikeouts. Michigan coach Erik Bakich said that this was due to the command of his fastball, especially in the lower part of the strike zone.
“His bread and butter is that he throws a lot of strikes, he works fast, he changes speeds,” Bakich said. “When you can throw strikes, change speeds and work fast, you’re going to have a shot. Oliver Jaskie obviously set the tone yesterday and (Rennard had) another good, quality start today.”
Rennard didn’t feel any pressure to follow up on Jaskie’s outing with a quality start of his own. But he did sense that based on Friday night, the opportunity to do so was there.
“You don’t really think about it too much, but I was like, ‘if Ollie can do that to our rivals, why can’t I’?” he said. “Get out and attack just like he did.”
However, Rennard was matched in the early going by Ohio State starter Connor Curlis. The Buckeye left-hander allowed just one run in five innings, while striking out four. Curlis consistently attacked the Wolverine hitters with inside pitches, especially against left-handed hitters.
After the quiet start for both offenses, Ohio State had success in the third inning with three singles, making solid contact on each one. The Buckeyes then took the lead on right fielder Dominic Canzone’s base hit to left.
Michigan then responded, almost as if on cue. Sophomore second baseman Jimmy Kerr drove a ball to deep centerfield, where it bounced over the fence for a ground-rule double. Kerr then easily stole third after getting an excellent jump, and senior catcher Harrison Wenson brought him across the plate with a deep sacrifice fly to center.
The Wolverines scored again in the fourth inning in almost the same fashion as their first run, with speed and aggressive base-running. Senior shortstop Michael Brdar lined one into left field and stretched it into a double, taking advantage of a high relay throw to second. Another high throw by Ohio State catcher Jacob Barnwell allowed Brdar to steal third, and junior third baseman Drew Lugbauer ripped an opposite-field double down the left-field foul line to give Michigan the lead.
“Everyone sees our stolen bases and it’s obvious they know we like to run, and most teams try to quicken up to the plate,” Bakich said. “The byproduct of that is sometimes it can force a pitcher to not quite have the same command, or it gets the defenders out of position because they’re covering bases and it opens up the infield for our hitters. So your offense is sometimes the benefactor.”
From the fourth inning on, it was all smooth sailing for Rennard. He had no problems rebounding after giving up his lone run, as he retired all but one of the remaining batters he faced. It was at this time, Rennard said, that he began to feel locked in and in rhythm.
“I gave up a couple hits in a row and everything I’ve been working on kind of came up in (the third) inning,” he said. “Just trusting my teammates, trusting the catcher and what he’s calling. I got to work through what I needed to, and after that I felt like I was in control.”
Added Bakich: “His breaking balls weren’t necessarily working for him early and he found it later on. Once he did, he was able to mix his pitches down in the zone.”
With the score still 2-1, Michigan would pull away with a big eighth inning, aided by two errors by Ohio State. After consecutive walks, sophomore designated hitter Nick Poirier drove the first pitch into left field, and a fielding error allowed Poirier to advance to second, and for both baserunners to score. Kerr later hit a ground ball that should have ended the inning, but the ball scooted right through second baseman Conner Pohl’s legs, and pinch-runner Christian Bullock came home to give the Wolverines a four-run lead.
“You know it was going to come down to timely hitting,” Bakich said. “Games like that are separated by a play here or there. For Poirier to drill that double in the gap and score those two runs gave us some breathing room.”
This breathing room proved crucial, as Ohio State scored a run in the ninth and put runners on third and second against Jackson Lamb. But the senior closer buckled down and induced a groundout to second, giving Michigan the series win against its fierce rival.
While the Wolverines won’t fully be able to erase the pain of last season’s losses to the Buckeyes, some measure of vengeance was certainly in play. And even as a Californian who knew little about the rivalry before arriving in Ann Arbor, Rennard was able to use this revenge factor to his advantage, and came away with his best start of theseason.
“Just seeing the look in (the returning players)’ eyes they had coming into the series, you know it’s big, you know it’s important,” Rennard said. “You don’t put too much pressure on yourself, but you rise to the occasion. You’re like, ‘Alright, I’m doing this for the guys next to me that want some redemption from last year.’ ”